Once I overcame my initial fear of making risotto, I became a convert! My go to recipe became a risotto that features spinach, bacon, gongonzola cheese and mushrooms -- definitely a winning combination. I mastered the recipe and was able to make it from memory.
There was just one problem. I got bored!
I wanted to try different risotto recipes and looked online. For some reason I became obsessed with using butternut squash. Online research narrowed my search and I honed in Ina Garten's recipe, found at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/butternut-squash-risotto-recipe/index.html. What appealed to me was the use of saffron threads, which infuse food with a lovely sunset-orange color and a distinctive flavor.
I was determined to make something on the spot with the ingredients that I had on hand. Alas, I did not have pancetta; but I did have bacon. Had I taken a few extra minutes to research substitutions, I would have found that I needed to blanch the bacon first to extract the smoky flavor.
I was in a hurry and didn't bother. So if you make this recipe using bacon, make sure to blanch it first. Also, don't saute the shallots with the bacon. Put a little butter in the pan and saute the shallots and add the arborio rice to that mixture. Then put the bacon in. I burned the shallots a little by sauteeing them with the bacon first. So I picked them out and put fresh shallots in butter and sauteed them. I added the crisped bacon and then the rice.
I was quite pleased with the results of my oversight in not blanching the bacon. The smokiness was not overpowering at all. That may be because I sauteed it in butter and then poured the butter off, and put fresh butter in the pan. I
I'll definitely make this again. The texture was really nice, the color beautiful and the taste a great mix of sweet and savory notes.
Butternut Squash Risotto
1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups.
3. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
4. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
5. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.
6. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned.
7. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
8. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total.
9. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese.
10. Mix well and serve.